Late Saturday night, Governor Tom Corbett (R) signed into law a provision that will make private school scholarships available for students assigned to the lowest-performing 15 percent of the state’s public schools.
While Pennsylvania has operated its Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program—which provides tax credits to corporations that donate money to scholarship-granting organizations—since 2001, scholarships were limited to students already enrolled in private schools. The new law expands the current program by adding $50 million in tax credits for corporations that donate toward scholarship for students assigned to low-performing public schools.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, “The budget provides for corporate donations to pay up to $8,500 in tuition for the students to attend private schools. Special-education students can get up to $15,000 in tuition.”
Preference is given to low-income students as well as those attending Philadelphia public schools—about half of which fall into the lowest-performing 15 percent of the state’s schools. Students from a few other school districts will likewise be given preference.
The tax credit scholarship program will allow students to escape not only the academic woes of poorly performing schools but also the violence that often plagues them. A June 2012 report from Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Foundation notes that students in the state’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools were fives times as likely to be a victim of violent crime or assault.
The per-pupil amount awarded for each private school scholarship would also be significantly less than the public school per-pupil cost. As the Commonwealth Foundation report explains, public schools spent nearly $15,000 per student in the 2010–2011 school year, but “tax-credit scholarships could serve students for anywhere between $1,100 (the average EITC scholarship) and $8,500, the maximum opportunity scholarship for non-special needs students.”
Pennsylvania’s broadened school choice program now provides a way for students to exchange a failing school for one that is suited to their individual needs. It opens doors to educational opportunity that would otherwise be unavailable, thus providing a path to a brighter academic future.